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Apple (s AAPL) today announced a new mobile app called “Cards” that will allow users to turn any photo taken with an iPhone or iPad into a greeting card. After the card is designed, Apple will print and mail it anywhere in the world for $2.99.
Gee, that rings a bell.
San Francisco-based startup Sincerely launched earlier this year with a mobile app called Postagram that does a remarkably similar thing. The Postagram app — which is now available on both iOS and Android devices — lets users add a short message to any photo from Facebook, Instagram or their mobile device. Postagram then prints the cards and sends them anywhere in the world for 99 cents.
I gave Sincerely CEO Matt Brezina a call this morning to find out how he was feeling about his company’s new heavyweight competitor. According to him, the team at Sincerely knew this day would come — and have been preparing for it since the company’s inception. “I can’t say I was surprised that they did it. Apple’s been offering photo book services with the iPhoto desktop application for years now,” he said. “When we started this company, we talked about how Apple would eventually take what they did on iPhoto and bring it to the iPhone.”
So now that Apple has entered the space, how exactly does Sincerely plan to maintain its edge? For starters, the startup can try to use its small size as an asset. “Our core focus is to let our users send simple thoughtful gifts from the mobile phone. That’s all we think about day and night,” Brezina said. “If our users want something special for, say, the holiday season, we can turn that around in weeks. For a company like Apple it would take months or even a year.”
He was also quick to point out that Sincerely’s offerings stretch a bit beyond postcard apps for the iPhone. In June the company debuted its PopBooth app that essentially turns iPads into photo booths, and in August it released an API to let developers build their own photo printing apps that run on Sincerely infrastructure. In addition, the Postagram app is also available on Android — something Brezina is happy his team prioritized early on. “Thank God we support multiple operating systems,” he said.
Diversify early, diversify often
At Sincerely’s launch back in April, Postagram worked only alongside of the Instagram app. I wrote at the time: “As clever as Postagram is (and I think it’s really clever), basing one’s business on a third-party’s software API is never a smart bet for the long term.” Soon after its launch, Sincerely was smart to quickly expand its technology to work with more platforms — integrating with Facebook photos, launching an Android app, and so on. Those early choices could turn out to be the company’s saving grace.
If today’s news proves anything, it’s that it can be dangerous to base a business on another company’s software or its hardware. It is a great time to be an entrepreneur, but with profits at companies such as Apple higher than ever, it’s also a great time to be a big powerful corporation. To avoid being trampled by industry giants, smart startups should take full advantage of their agility by hedging bets across different APIs, operating systems and devices much as possible.